Movie review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Perhaps it’s too soon to say this, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films, definitely in my top 5 and maybe even in my top 3.

I really, really, really loved this movie. Maybe it feels extra special to me, because we had to wait longer than expected to dive into Phase 4 of the MCU, due to the pandemic. However, while the Black Widow solo film we got earlier this summer was a fun movie, it still felt like a mid-tier MCU film, a holdover from Phase 3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a bold, imaginative shot of adrenaline — just what the MCU needed post-Endgame. It’s an origin story that feels both epic and personal, and it features an exciting, emotionally-resonant character journey that stands on its own and doesn’t feel like it’s merely a stepping stone to something else. 

First off, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings works so well because of the enthusiasm of its main star, Simu Liu. It’s been so fun to watch his posts on social media, expressing how excited he is to be a part of the MCU. I’m always going to love classic MCU characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, but it’s also nice to have some fresh faces in the line-up. 

Although the Ten Rings give Shang-Chi incredible power as a superhero, he still remains a relatable character, because at the beginning of the film he’s an ordinary guy struggling to live an ordinary life, dealing with the trauma of his past. I really appreciated that Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy (Awkwafina) got to take this hero’s journey with him, and that she even goes on her own journey of discovery, growing more confident in who she is. 

I always love a nuanced villain, and Tony Leung is great as Xu Wenwu, the original bearer of the Ten Rings and also Shang-Chi’s father. Although he’s committed terrible acts, Wenwu is also a man who is capable of love and is broken by tragedy. Shang-Chi’s relationship with his father is the emotional core of this film, and what elevates this movie beyond just a by-the-numbers origin story. 

Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) also plays a key role in this story, dealing with her own complex relationship with their father, and with Shang-Chi himself. Also, this goes without saying but stay to the very end of the credits; there’s an important bonus scene involving Xialing that has big ramifications for this movie’s sequel. 

Simu Liu performed many of his own stunts in this film, and I’d like to take a moment to comment on how incredible all the fight sequences in this movie are. I loved that the superpowers in the film were inspired by martial arts, and I loved the way the camera tracked the actors during fight scenes, including spot-on use of slow motion. I’ve seen plenty of superhero fights/action sequences that take place on a bus, but trust me, you’ve never seen one like this. There’s also a nail-biter of a fight that takes place on the scaffolding on the side of a skyscraper, and an epic showdown in a magical kingdom that features dragons (yes, dragons in the MCU!).

The Ten Rings themselves are a cool concept, and another great example of how the MCU is able to take a concept that might not seem like it would work (I had major doubts about a character who was a walking, talking tree — a.k.a. Groot — before seeing Guardians of the Galaxy). Turns out, watching people use magical bracelets to fight is actually pretty awesome.

Also, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ties into Iron Man 3 in a way I wasn’t expecting. Although I’m personally a fan of Iron Man 3, I know that film was somewhat controversial in the fandom. Not everyone loved the film’s big twist surrounding classic comic book villain the Mandarin, though it’s important to note concerns have been raised over the years about how the Mandarin’s portrayal in the comics has been problematic. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings addresses the complexity of this plot point, and provides a solution that I think fits within the MCU while also being aware of real-world issues. 

I’m really glad the MCU is starting to delve more into all things magical and multiverse here in Phase 4, and I can’t wait to see what this is all building towards. The Infinity Saga has been wonderful, but a franchise is going to end up feeling stale if it doesn’t evolve and become something new. 

Toward the end of Phase 3, I was starting to feel a little burnt out by the MCU overall, even though I thought Infinity War and Endgame were amazing. With Phase 4, they really are making an effort to give us something new. The Disney+ series have been phenomenal, and I’m very excited to see what surprises Eternals has in store. 

And someday in the future, I’m going to love watching Shang-Chi join the Avengers to fight the MCU’s next big bad.

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